“You were right!” If I had a dollar for every moment since moving into my freshman dorm that I had that thought about my mother, I could have a first-class vacation abroad every year. It’s one of the more painful aspects of her not being around anymore: the inability to give her the satisfaction of hearing that from me. And of course, what she was most correct about – countless times in any given week – was the simple assertion that I didn’t know everything.
I was very young when it became apparent that I was a pretty good student. I couldn’t have been more than nine or ten the first time I heard Mom say, “You don’t know everything,” in the low voice that use to indicate her annoyance. Several years later, in the middle of my frequently-exasperating teens, she flat out yelled it at me. I remember thinking, I’m ashamed to say, I know more than you do.
Segregation left my mother and countless other African Americans under-educated. And she didn’t go to college until after I’d gone to graduate school. So in a purely academic sense, the stellar education she made available to me undoubtedly gave me more book learning, as my grandmother would say, than Mom had back when I graduated from high school. But then, there was what she learned just by living — which I hadn’t really begun to do. It didn’t occur to me at the time that her learning was at least as valuable as mine.
Twenty years ago, no one could have convinced me that the older, more experienced, more educated, more attentive and better read I became, the more I’d a) realize how little I actually know and b) find that fact thrilling. But that is the current state of affairs.
My work with and around a lot of the country’s movers and shakers and my passion for a martial art steeped in a tradition of instructor infallibility often leave me feeling suffocated by the very attitude I’m so happy to have shed. So today, as an often-exhausted parent and an excited teacher with a new class, I take a moment to celebrate the willingness to be taught, even by those who allegedly know less… and to acknowledge how unbelievably often my mother was right!